BioWare is currently developing an unnamed Mass Effect project that may be Mass Effect 4. To improve its story and prevent another Andromeda, ME4 must avoid some of BioWare’s familiar tropes. BioWare has overused several narrative tropes that cripple diversity in its characters and worldbuilding throughout several franchises. The success of Mass Effect Legendary Edition has reinvigorated interest in a franchise whose legacy is hanging in the balance and needs to stand apart from the original trilogy’s story.
BioWare is responsible for developing several well-established RPG franchises, including Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. While each in-game universe is unique, details like dialogue options, character archetypes, and story tropes reappear in many of their games. Unfortunately, while these tropes can serve as charming BioWare signatures, they have begun to turn characters and worldbuilding methodologies a bit stale.
Many fans were disappointed with Mass Effect: Andromeda, thanks to its disappointing graphics and flat characters. The recent failure of Anthem’s story and characters has only further impacted BioWare’s reputation. Mass Effect Legendary Edition revitalized some support for the company, but expectations for the next Mass Effect game are high. If BioWare avoided some of its most common story and character tropes, that could help set Mass Effect 4 apart from some of the studio’s other titles.
Mass Effect 4’s Protagonist Should Have Present Family
Dragon Age: Origins featured a complex origin system that allowed players to experience their Hero’s humble beginnings. Several origins lacked the presence of a living family or removed the possibility for the Hero of Ferelden to return to their roots. Mass Effect Legendary Edition also let players choose their origin, but only one featured a living familial figure. By implementing family roots, protagonists will have a legacy beyond their heroic actions during the game’s campaign. Games like Fallout 3 centered the protagonist’s journey around family ties, a new trope that BioWare could introduce in its upcoming Mass Effect title.
Mass Effect 4 could benefit from a living sibling or parent that survives the story and acts as a mentor figure or confidant. Few protagonists in video games utilize familial relationships during gameplay. This new personal connection could function as motivation for the protagonist to grow. Players might be more inclined to listen to the suggestions of a sibling or parental figure, which is a relationship largely unexplored in BioWare titles.
Mass Effect 4 Doesn’t Need An Ice Queen
Many BioWare games feature female characters portrayed as powerful and independent, but they are also sometimes given more miserable personalities. This character type is commonly known as an “ice queen” for a cold, domineering nature requiring significant time investments to break through. Dragon Age’s Morrigan and Cassandra, and Mass Effect’s Miranda are BioWare’s well-known ice queens. Morrigan and Miranda were quite popular, but it’s time for BioWare to move toward showing more character diversity. Kindness and strength can empower female characters as well, and the ice queen trope is an inherently limiting one.
Not all characters in Mass Effect 4 need to be likable, but there’s more than one way to make a person complex. For example, introducing a silent, traumatized character that slowly becomes more sociable would be much more rewarding than learning why a particular companion is downright cruel. Additionally, a character using non-verbal communication (like sign language) could force the main character to adapt to communicate with their companion. These relationships would be far more rewarding than another ice queen in Mass Effect 4.
Mass Effect 4 Should Feature An Unsympathetic Villain
Sympathetic villains are an increasingly common trope in entertainment media, and BioWare’s antagonists are no exception. Mass Effect Legendary Edition featured the Reapers, who were a more one-sided villain. Meanwhile, characters like Dragon Age 2’s Meredith were damaged by trauma and indoctrination by religious institutions. Meredith’s cruelty stemmed from suspicion and fear, making her character feel more human than the mindless darkspawn from Dragon Age: Origins. Mass Effect 4 should avoid sympathetic villains and introduce a more pragmatic antagonist.
A common misconception with villains is that they need to be redeemable or sympathetic to be complex. Mass Effect 4 can break this pattern by introducing a villain with a complex personality and pragmatic goals without being overly sympathetic. For example, introducing a psychopath committing atrocities for their own gain or the betterment of their organization could be far more interesting than the trilogy’s Reapers or Saren. Alternatively, creating a pragmatic enemy solving a galactic crisis with a simple (more violent) solution could present a battle of ideals and wits.
Mass Effect 4 Doesn’t Need Ancient Civilizations
Ancient civilizations can be useful narrative devices in worldbuilding. Their existence reminds that the hero’s adventure is just another chapter in the universe’s story. The mysteries surrounding their history can also function as a plot device to solve specific conflicts. BioWare overused this trope in Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Anthem, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. For example, Mass Effect Legendary Edition features the Protheans, an ancient race that disappeared from the galaxy. Several characters dedicated their lives to understanding Prothean culture and technology, with little success.
In place of an ancient civilization, an undiscovered living civilization could be a far more interesting plot in the franchise’s next installment. Mass Effect’s galaxy is a beautiful place, with many undiscovered planets holding the potential for life. BioWare shouldn’t dismiss the opportunity to utilize a more primitive civilization in Mass Effect’s technologically advanced universe. The gameplay mechanics such a society could introduce could help diversify Mass Effect 4’s combat, weapons, and appearance beyond the sci-fi themes the series is known for.
BioWare Doesn’t Need To End The World
BioWare worlds rarely remain stable for long. Global and galactic catastrophes have threatened Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and Anthem’s universes, but these are not the only conflicts that create heroes. Mass Effect’s Reapers threatened all sentient life in the galaxy, while Dragon Age’s darkspawn presented an apocalyptic threat to all of Thedas. These conflicts are easy ways to establish astronomical stakes in the protagonist’s quests but are not always necessary to make a story matter.
Mass Effect 4 should consider downplaying the primary conflict to a more personal mission. Avenging the death of a friend or defending a colony in the outer reaches of space can be just as important as saving a continent or planet. Lowering the stakes of Mass Effect 4 could also allow players to focus on more minor aspects of the galaxy. If Mass Effect 4’s protagonist is not Shepard, BioWare should avoid comparing the two heroes. Crafting a smaller conflict to introduce a new hero would prevent competition between Mass Effect’s protagonists and allow them to fulfill different roles in the franchise.
While BioWare’s tropes can be charming in some of their titles, the consistent patterns in characterization and plotlines have become less original with each use. A new Mass Effect game would likely do well to adopt new and unique stories to capture the community’s attention, rather than relying too heavily on things that have served the series well in the past.
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